Sorry Wally and “the Beave,” kids today are no longer “leaving it” to empty soup cans and string to keep in touch. Today, it’s all about logging in and signing on, just like mom and dad.
Case-in-point: Kidswirl. Billed as ‘Facebook for kids,’ this social networking site is barely a year old but already boasts 10,000 users, an average of 3-4,000 new users per month and 50-70,000 page views each day.
The site’s target audience begins at age 2, making it clear that, despite an ongoing debate over privacy and social harm, the social networking craze is trending young.
Toby Clark created Kidswirl in February 2009 after seeing his own children blocked by Facebook’s 13+ age requirements. Clark built the site from research that, “the upcoming generation of tech kids are desiring to emulate what they see their parents are doing online – rather than play with penguins.”
There seems to be no need for kids on this site to change their names once they hit 18 thanks to a strict ban on bad language and any suggestive phrases and content deemed inappropriate for kids by parent-users.
New users must provide both their own email address and their parent’s to create an account, meaning kids as young as 2 also have email. They then choose from one of six self-identifying categories – kids, parent, teacher, grandparent, teens, pastor – and build a profile, just like Facebook.
Also just like Facebook, Kidswirl allows kids to upload and share pictures. This has raised red flags for privacy and child welfare advocates alike, who point to instances where hackers have been able to access the accounts of kids they are not ‘friends’ with. They also criticize the site for not requiring a background check to verify the identity of new users.
Kidswirl has responded with a first-of-its kind “Parent Control Panel” that gives parents complete control of their child’s account, everything from password protected account changes to accepting ‘friend’ requests and setting privacy controls.
The most difficult task for Kidswirl and other sites targeting toddlers to teens may be one parents and teachers already know well: keeping their attention. Kidswirl’s founder Clark reports the average user spends about five minutes on the site per visit, much shorter than the 20 minute average for mom and dad on Facebook.